As a member of the ever-increasing ranks of the self-employed, I have to stretch my pennies. But it’s often the little things that make life seem worth living, so I don’t deprive myself of small, affordable pleasures. I’m always looking for ways to make life a bit more frugal as well as healthier, so I have no intention of paying a high price for those little indulgences that can add more expense (and lab-created additives) than they should. I won’t spend almost ten dollars for a bag of artificially flavored coffee to serve at Sunday brunch or pay an exorbitant amount for a milkshake that packs more synthetic ingredients than taste. Fortunately, there are ways I can treat myself and my guests at home without blowing my grocery budget or paying for ingredients whose names only a scientist could pronounce. Here are a few of my kitchen-tested recipes that indulge both my innate laziness and desire to do things the easy way as well as my taste for sweets and penny-pinching.
When I have guests over for coffee, I add a crushed cinnamon stick to the bottom of my coffeemaker’s filter basket, top with good-quality ground coffee, and pour a teaspoon of vanilla extract on top. It’s delicious served with nothing but cream, but if my guests are in the mood for something sweeter, they can add sugar, top with whipped cream, and sprinkle with a little grated chocolate or ground cinnamon. And though I brew a pot of regular coffee for those who prefer their java unadorned, most of my guests are seduced by the comforting aroma and delicate flavor of cinnamon and vanilla.
If my company’s in the mood for flavored tea instead of coffee, I brew it myself instead of reaching for a can or bottle of what’s been called the noble beverage (in this case, made much less noble since it’s often sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup). I place one cup of loose white, green, black, or oolong tea (strain out leaves before serving) or ten tea bags in ten cups of cold water and steep overnight in the refrigerator or longer. The tea can steep for a day and won’t become as bitter as tea brewed with hot water, nor will it become cloudy. Before serving, I add one tablespoon natural raspberry or peach extract (I have to order peach extract online, but raspberry extract is available at most grocery stores) and sweeten to taste. Extract does seem to increase cloudiness however, so if I want my tea to stay clear, I don’t add it.
If I feel especially self-indulgent, I make rich, creamy milkshakes. I use a few easy-to-find ingredients to make my own, and I don’t buy a premium (read high-fat content) ice cream to put in the blender. I blend four and one-half cups ice cubes (crushed if your blender can’t handle cubes), a half-cup heavy whipping cream, one cup whole milk, four tablespoons sugar, a 3.2 ounce packet of instant dry milk powder, and a tablespoon or more of my favorite flavoring or extract. Vanilla is delicious, but one of the most refreshing flavors is made by using raspberry extract and reconstituted or fresh lime juice to taste. For those who are crazy for chocolate, I add chocolate syrup or chocolate drink-mix powder (these contain corn syrup or sugar, so the recipe needs less added sugar) as well as vanilla. I process until well blended, stirring if needed so that the blade turns freely. The shake is a great way to increase calcium and protein intake, and I like it better than any restaurant shake I’ve tried. It has a slightly different texture from a milkshake made with ice cream and it’s icier, but it’s fresher tasting and has fewer calories. This recipe makes two large shakes.
Anyone, no matter how culinarily challenged, can easily make and enjoy these low-tech treats in good health and good conscience. Share them at your next gathering and pamper your guests. Better yet, make them when you simply want to indulge yourself. After all, you deserve it for being penny wise-and self-employed.